Top 10 Medical Stories of 2008: No. 7
The popular and continuing backlash against the pharmaceutical industry and its potential influence on the practice of medicine (and the practice of academic medicine, in particular) led to a number of notable events this year.
The most tangible is legislation dictating pharma and physician conduct—specifically, the Massachusetts Health Code Bill, which bans pharma gifts and meals to Massachusetts physicians and requires them to report pharma payments for their consulting and speaking services. The legislation is in the spirit of the updated PhRMA Interaction Code, which goes into effect January 1 and bans non-educational gifts—like branded pens, notepads, and stress balls—from pharma or medical-device companies to healthcare professionals.
A prime issue informing these actions is whether pharma money biases the treatment recommendations of key opinion leaders in academia. Notable academic psychiatrists specifically* were caught in the crosshairs of anti-pharma bulldog Senator Chuck Grassley, the national press, and interested bloggers, who charged that these influential physicians failed to report the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars from pharma.
Another important factor is whether pharma currently holds undue influence over the content of continuing medical education (CME) that it supports financially. Some pharma companies (eg, Lilly), without withdrawing CME support altogether, have agreed to publicly disclose their CME funding to outside groups in a show of conscientiousness and in response to a request from Senator Grassley. Others (ie, Pfizer) cut off direct CME grants to medical education communications companies (MECCs), a probable PR move that is based on the perception of (and not so much actual) bias in MECC-produced CME specifically.
And if academic isolation from pharma is not possible (or very smart), then transparency is next to godliness. This year, the web site of The Cleveland Clinic began disclosing information about its physicians’ financial ties to industry; although specific dollar amounts and research funding from pharma are not currently provided. In addition, the University of Pennsylvania recently reported that it will create a searchable web site that discloses the industry relationships of its physicians.
Straggling behind in this anti-pharma zeitgeist is the nearly toothless Accreditation Council for CME (ACCME), the accreditor of CME providers and, like many a bureaucracy, an apparent fan of abstruse verbiage. This year, the ACCME promised to enhance its monitoring and surveillance of CME production (by increasing its fees) and proposed harsh limits on CME production that demonstrated little practical forethought.
* Namely Joseph Biederman of Harvard, Alan Schatzberg of Stanford, and Charles Nemeroff of Emory.